Over the past thirty years of camping I’ve owned or used several different pump-type filters and tried different chemical purification options. Each has their merits and drawbacks. Pump-type filters have been prone to mechanical failure, tricky to use, prone to clogging and slow to use. Chemical purifiers take longer, leave an aftertaste, and depend on carefully measured, accurate proportions.
Providing a group of Scouts with filtered water means you really want a foolproof, reliable system, if something doesn’t work flawlessly everything grinds to a halt.
Several years ago I settled on a gravity filter as the best way to provide water for a group. Gravity filters aren’t prone to mechanical failure like pump filters and are less fussy than chemical treatment. The only serious limitation is the filter element.
I used typical glass fiber filter elements that were advertised “up to 200-gallon capacity (depending on water quality)”. No matter how careful we were to pre-filter these elements slowed down to a trickle after ten or fifteen gallons of filtering. Rather than 200 gallons we were lucky to make it to 50-60 before we had to replace the $40.00 filter element
The Sawyer 3-way water filter that employs hollow membrane technology derived from kidney dialysis. According to the company website they engineered a hollow fiber filter for quick flow, accurate filtration and to withstand back washing so the filter can be reused.
Sawyer’s filter technology meet or exceed EPA and worldwide standards (there’s extensive testing data here if you are interested).
I purchased three of the Sawyer 3-Way water filter elements, refit our old gravity fed system and took them on our week-long canoe trip. After a week of trouble-free filtering for three different crews (about 40 gallons during the week for each group of nine) I am sold. The Sawyer 3-Way worked like a champ. As each day passed I monitored the filter’s performance and it didn’t seem to slow down. Truth be told I was a little worried that we had done something wrong because the filter seemed to flow too fast! Be sure to check out the video for an idea of just how well the filter works.
Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter at Amazon
The 3-Way has quick tubing connectors (something increasingly common on outdoor gear) and includes a faucet adapter for back-washing the element. The instructions for back washing encourage using high pressure for back washing the filter, so hold the faucet adapter or you’ll get wet! I back washed our filters and they still flow as freely as they did when new. That’s really something.
Sawyer 4 Liter System
I refit our old gravity system with Sawyer filter elements, if you are starting from scratch Sawyer offers a 2 and 4 liter filter system with the 3-way filter element.
Sawyer 2 and 4 Liter Gravity System at Amazon
Sawyer Mini Water Filter
The same Hollow Fiber Membrane technology is also available in the Sawyer Mini Water Filter that weighs only 2 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand, with a manufacturer’s limited lifetime warranty.
Sawyer Mini Filtration System at Amazon